Connected through our Consumerism

It’s quite likely that something you’re wearing at the moment was made in Asia. Most of the world’s garments are produced in Asia but the garment workers here are paid very poorly. The working conditions they endure include long working hours and forced overtime, for very low wages, without receiving their social security entitlements. This is despite the fact that the garment industry is worth about US$147 billion per year.

As consumers we are inextricably linked to the workers at the other end of the supply chain. For every item of clothing we buy we have a connection with the person who made it. However for a t-shirt you buy in the shop that costs $22.50, the garment worker that made it receives just 64 cents, while $16.88 remains as profit for the company. It’s clear to see how companies can easily afford to pay workers decent wages and still make a profit, without this necessarily costing the consumer any extra.

There’s nothing inevitable about the exploitation of garment workers. The feeling of guilt that we sometimes have as consumers when we buy a cheap item of clothing and pass a thought for the conditions in which it was made doesn’t need to be so. Unfortunately we have become used to companies exploiting their workers and often feel that there is little we can do to rectify these problems. However it is entirely possible that the connection between consumers and garment workers could be transformed into a positive one. That every time you buy clothes in a shop you feel that your money is being used to promote decent livelihoods in poorer parts of the world, that the person who made your clothes is really receiving a fair share of the price you see on the label.

This connection between consumers and garment workers means that consumers have real power (and arguably a real responsibility) to stand together with the workers who make our clothes and demand better conditions for them. In many garment factories trade unions are not permitted, making it difficult for workers to organise and demand their rights. There is huge fear among workers about standing up for their rights as those who do stand up for themselves are often threatened in the workplace or are even fired.

We know that the main concern of companies is their bottom line. All their activities from cutting costs, to advertising campaigns are aiming towards maximising their profits. This is exactly why we need consumers to start creating a fuss about the conditions for those working in the garment industry. Companies may not listen to workers, but as consumers are the suppliers of their profits, they will listen to us. So the more of us the better!

The Vetan Chori Band Karo / Stop Wage Theft campaign is currently working at the grassroots level, empowering workers to stand up for their rights. Workers in Gurgaon are signing up to a memorandum demanding their rights. This will be presented to the Minster of Labour and Employment on 1st May 2012. Workers are asking him to use his power to enforce the minimum wage laws. We have also started a petition for consumers to sign in support of the workers’ struggle. Please take a couple of minutes to sign this petition now and use your power as a consumer to act for positive change.

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2 responses to “Connected through our Consumerism

  1. I would be interested to know if there are any American brands involved in the exploitation of Gurgaon garment workers.

  2. Hi Kimberly,

    Some of the American brand companies in Gurgaon supply include Tommy Hilfiger, Gap, DKNY, American Eagle, J.C Penney, Walmart, Target, Ralph Lauren, Macy’s and Calvin Klein. Exploitation through wage theft is taking place is various ways throughout factories in Gurgaon. Standards and practices vary from factory to factory but the overall findings from our interactions with workers are that wage theft is extremely common.

    You may be interested in a report called ‘Taking Liberties’ in which garment workers have named UK brands that their companies supply. You can find it in our ‘Links’ section.

    Also a Bangladeshi labour organiser was murdered last week. The Bangladeshi garment industry supplies American brands including Tommy Hilfiger and Walmart, You can read the article about it here, http://mobile.nytimes.com/article;jsessionid=347F51863D31A7BC477E18A4D71620DB.w6?a=936912&f=20

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